It’s been a little over a year - fifty-three weeks, exactly - since I last put up one of these “What I’ve Been Reading Lately” posts. Here are the volumes that have graced my nightstand (and my Kindle app) since then:
- The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins
First in the popular three-part series for young adults, I read this mainly because the Missus, who teaches middle-schoolers, had brought it home. A reasonably well-written novel about a dystopian future in which teenagers are forced to murder each other for the amusement of the multitudes... and as a way to curb the rebellious instincts of the populace. In other words, a metaphor for middle school.
- Edible Stories - Mark Kurlansky
Short stories, all of which share food-related themes.
- Well Preserved: Recipes and Techniques for Putting Up Small Batches of Seasonal Foods - Eugenia Bone
I found this book in a Borders bookstore in the midst of a pre-closing clearance and figured it was an opportune time to learn about small-batch food preservation techniques. It has served as a fine introduction to the world of canning: I am now an enthusiastic practitioner. Pickled asparagus, anyone?
- Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins
The second book in the Hunger Games trilogy. More teenager-on-teenager killing action with a completely unsubtle political subtext.
- Theories of International Politics and Zombies - Daniel W. Drezner
A scholarly analysis of several theories of international relations, illustrated with the clever use of the ever-popular zombie paradigm. Funny and surprisingly erudite.
- From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict Over Palestine - Joan Peters
Eli (hizzownself) and Toni told me about this book after having met Joan Peters on a cruise a couple of years ago. It’s a rebuttal - supported by painfully detailed documentation - of the narrative made popular by the mainstream media and Arab propaganda that portrays Israelis as the usurpers of “Palestinian” land. Essential reading for anyone who wants to learn more about the underpinnings of the conflict in the Mideast.
- The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer - Siddhartha Mukherjee
Mukherjee traces the evolution of our knowledge of this most dreaded of human diseases... and the slow but steady advance of medical technology toward prevention and cures.
- Leisureville: Adventures in a World Without Children - Andrew D. Blechman
A no-holds-barred look at The Villages, the very model of a Q-Tip Paradise. After seeing the place with Eli and Toni, this book was a must-read for me.
- Embassytown - China Miéville
Humans and an alien species come into conflict over a matter of linguistics in this exploration of the connection between mind and language. Yes, it’s science fiction - but it’s unlike almost any other SF book I have ever read, the kind that, after you finish it, makes you scratch your head and mumble, “What the fuck was that?” In case you’re wondering, that is a High Compliment.
- Tangerine - Edward Bloor
Another young-adult read, this one about a high school kid dealing with family dysfunction and life in a strange new town in central Florida.
- The Disappearing Spoon - Sam Kean
Fascinating facts about the chemical elements. One of those books that looks really interesting but disappoints because of authorial limitations.
- The Frozen Rabbi - Steve Stern
A young man discovers an unusual family heirloom in the Kelvinator deep-freezer in the basement of his Memphis home: a 200-year-old frozen rabbi. The book jumps back and forth between the adventures of the (now thawed-out) rabbi in modern-day Memphis and the stories of the people who brought him to the New World.
- Pump Six and Other Stories - Paolo Bacigalupo
SF shorts by the author of The Windup Girl. I had read several of these in other anthologies already and was eager to see some more of Baciagalupo’s short fiction. He did not disappoint.
- The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time - Judith Shulevitz
An interview with the author on the radio was what introduced me to this book, an exploration of Sacred Time in the contexts of both Jewish and American Christian culture and history.
- Early Bird: A Memoir of Premature Retirement - Rodney Rothman
A temporarily unemployed young man immerses himself in the world of south Florida retirees. Kind of like “Black Like Me” with old white people.
- The Help - Kathryn Stockett
Black domestics in pre-civil rights Mississippi find their voice in an aspiring writer, a young white woman sympathetic to their desire to be treated humanely. Perfect grist for the Hollywood movie mill.
- The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love - Kristin Kimball
A young woman takes up the Life of the Soil and describes farming, dirt and all. This was a galley proof that Elder Daughter lent me after her summer of living on a Massachusetts farm, her way of explaining the strange but compelling appeal farm life held (and continues to hold) for her.
- The Left Left Behind - Terry Bisson
A disappointingly weak collection of short stories by a talented writer, it comes nowhere near the standard of his first two collections, Bears Discover Fire and In the Upper Room.
- The Mind’s Eye - Oliver Sacks
A study of the human brain and some of the peculiar conditions appertaining thereto, by the author of Awakenings, Uncle Tungsten, and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Given the events of the last month, this book has especial significance for me and my understanding of some of the effects of stroke.
- A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown - Julia Scheeres
The story of Jim Jones, his People’s Temple, and the events leading to the infamous mass murder at their colony in Guyana in November 1978.
- The Cheese Chronicles: A Journey Through the Making and Selling of Cheese in America, From Field to Farm to Table - Liz Thorpe
More than you ever thought you’d want to know about American artisanal cheese and cheesemakers. Since reading this book, I have made numerous cheesy (and delicious) discoveries... including just what it is that makes stinky cheese stinky.
- The Last Hurrah of the Golden Horde - Norman Spinrad
Vintage SF short stories by a master of the genre, the author of The Iron Dream. They just don’t write ’em like this anymore.
- 11/22/63: A Novel - Stephen King
Uncle Stevie’s latest Honkin’ Thick Tome - the boy do know how to crank out the pages - this one about a portal through time and a man who sets about preventing the Kennedy assassination. One of King’s better efforts, it examines the consequences of the thousand little decisions we make every day, not just the big ones that create seismic impacts on the world around us.
- Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City - Nelson Johnson
I’ve become a thoroughgoing fan of the HBO series that draws much of its source material from this book... but this is the Real Thing, with the stories of the actual people who, for better or worse, made Atlantic City what it was Back in the Day as well as what it is today. Having spent numerous mini-vacations there with SWMBO’s mom and stepfather, and having an aunt who lived there as a little girl in the Nucky Johnson days, I could appreciate the town’s vivid history better than ever.
- The Forever War - Joe Haldeman
A classic SF novel written in the mid-1970’s and inspired, in no small part, by the Vietnam war, The Forever War imagines the impact of relativistic time dilation on interstellar conflict - and on the soldiers enmeshed in it. This is an essential part of the Science Fiction Canon that had somehow eluded me until now. If you have not read it, read it immediately, especially if you’re in any way a Mil-Skiffy fan.
- Where Judaism Differed - Abba Hillel Silver
Thoughtful examination of the philosophical differences between Judaism and its daughter religions Christianity and Islam.
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson
Believe it or not, I had never read any of the Larsson novels until now. Larsson’s novels are not perfect - there’s a lot of extraneous material that could have been snipped out by a discerning editor - but in Lisbeth Salander he has created a most compelling pop cultural character, at once vulnerable and brutal, an emotionally stunted genius avenger. Brilliant.
- The Girl who Played with Fire - Stieg Larsson
The second book in Larsson’s trilogy reveals more about what made Lisbeth Salander what she is.
- The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest - Stieg Larsson
The final book in Larsson’s trilogy.
- Boneshaker - Cherie Priest
Thanks go to Big Stupid Tommy, who gifted me with this book, a rollicking steampunk adventure set in an alternative history version of Seattle. Priest is no Master Novelist, but she has plenty of fun material to play with. Dirigibles! Zombies! Mad scientists!
- To Say Nothing of the Dog - Connie Willis
Connie Willis has written several books about the adventures of future Oxford historians who use time travel to study various periods and events of historical significance: medieval England (The Doomsday Book) and the London Blitz (Blackout, All Clear) being just two examples. Written in the style of a Victorian comic novel, this book has its time-traveling historians frantically searching for a garish church artifact and doing their utmost to prevent the space-time continuum from becoming unraveled with unfortunate consequences. Winner of a best novel Hugo award.